Armed with scripted questions, FBI agents from ten major field offices including New York, Detroit, and Denver have fanned out across the country and interviewed more than 800 members of the Libyan community to determine if there is any threat of terror attacks against American targets because of U.S. military action in Libya.
The outreach campaign, which started several days ago, was addressed yesterday by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who said the FBI is interviewing Libyans who live in the U.S. to be "on guard" against any possible terror attacks from Libya or to locate any Libyan agents operating inside U.S. borders.
"We want to make certain that we are on guard for the possibility of terrorist attacks emanating somewhere out of Libya," said Mueller, appearing before the House Appropriations Committee, "whether it be Gadhafi's forces or, in eastern Libya, the opposition forces who may have amongst them persons who in the past have had associations with terrorist groups."
According to officials the outreach included approaches to Libyans in the U.S. on student visas. In some cases students were of specific concern because their core studies were in areas that could have direct application to the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. The agents have approached students off campus, and all interviews conducted have been voluntary.
At the outset of military operations against Libya, U.S. officials expressed concern that Gadhafi could launch revenge attacks against the U.S. or European nations. Last month, John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said, "Gadhafi has the penchant to do things of a very concerning nature. We have to anticipate and be prepared for things he might try to do to flout the will of the international community."
Officials say one reason for the interviews is Libya's prior involvement in terror attacks like the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Asked whether there might also be danger from Libya's anti-Gadhafi rebels because of rumored ties between some factions and terror groups like Al Qaeda, Mueller said he did not know who those individuals with alleged terrorist links might be. "I'm not certain at this point that anybody really does," said Mueller. "This is an ongoing effort by us at the same time as the State Department and the [Central Intelligence] Agency and others to identity individuals who may be part of the opposition."
Mueller also told the committee that the FBI has concerns about former Gadhafi officials who have defected to the opposition. Said Mueller, "There may well be intelligence officers who are operating with different types of cover in the United States. We want to make sure we've identified these individuals to ensure no harm comes from them, knowing they may well have been associated with the Gadhafi regime."
FBI agents began interviewing large numbers of Libyan U.S. residents earlier this week in regions served by 10 field offices, including New York, Newark, Denver, Washington, D.C., Houston, and Detroit. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement Tuesday that reminded individuals of their civil rights when they are contacted by law enforcement but also noted, "American Muslims strongly support law enforcement and the protection of our national security."